Cli-Fi: Envisaging the Future of Humanity under Climate Change
'Clifi' is a new genre dedicated to climate fiction, or fiction about climate change. Film-makers, novelists, graphic novelists and playwrights are using the science and predictions of climate scientists to construct human dramas around possible futures in an effort to stimulate us into action.
I myself am guilty of having written a clifi novel, Stormteller, which envisages rising sea levels causing a temporary breakdown in society in the UK around 2030.
A basic vulnerability here is the fact that if ports are incapacitated by storm surges, the 'just-in-time' logistics model upon which supermarkets and other shops depend breaks down, people stockpile food and fuel, and shortages quickly turn into riots and lawlessness.
This is one way in which our society is not resilient to a general, widespread climate event.
The story follows a group of teenagers whose lives are shattered by these developments.
IDP:2043 and New Atlantis are two other examples of clifi specifically relevant to cities. The former is a graphic novel published last August and the latter is a piece of eco-drama to be staged later this month at The Crystal, Royal Victoria Docks, London.
IDP:2043 is set 29 years in the future. IDP stands for Internally Displaced People. The scenario is that rising sea level in the UK has caused internal migration. NWI or New Wanlockhead is a new city created as a result on high land.
It displays all the characteristics of social breakdown: a hinterland of shantytowns clustered around a gated community where the rich and powerful live. It hints that social breakdown caused by climate change will cause developed world cities to become more like those found in the developing world nowadays.
It follows the story of Cait, a woman from the shantytown initially favoured by the elite but then found to be too rebellious to be permitted to survive...
As in Stormteller, there is a problem feeding people. A solution has been found which benefits the rich: a type of indoor vertical farming, which only the rich are allowed to pursue while the poor are prevented from growing their own food.
This gripping and fascinating story is written and illustrated in different styles by a variety of artists and writers, who each explore different aspects of the theme. They include Irvine Welsh (author of Filth), Pat Mills (the creator of 2000AD comic and the anti-war series Charley's War), Hannah Berry (author of Britten and Brülightly) and Kate Charlesworth (responsible for the New Scientist's non-fiction graphic novel Life, the Universe and (Almost) Everything.
While one may quibble about the few technical details in this book, as a moral fable exploring the human reality it paints a very plausible picture of what may happen if we do not prepare sufficiently now for the ravages of climate change that may well come.
New Atlantis is a piece of multimedia theatre that explores the climate-change world of 2050, where people are being punished retrospectively for past climate crimes, cities like London are experiencing water austerity and Miami has been abandoned due to rising sea levels.
It follows the agents of something called New Atlantis, which the audience becomes part of, as it tries to come to terms with the new reality and what should be done. It aims to engage the audience in thinking about the issues by forcing them to participate in discussions about the options as part of the drama.
It is the brainchild of LAStheatre who have collaborated with scientists and engineers from UCL, Pennine Water Group and Rutherford Appleton Space Lab. to come up with their scenarios.
Dan Bloom, who came up with the clifi label, says that this is an inevitable imaginative response to climate change. "It's a genre term that can be regarded as part of the broader category of 'speculative fiction'. While the two genres share some features in common, they are separate genres," he says.
If we are going to inspire people and planners to create more sustainable ways of living, then it is vital to employ the arts. Clifi is here to stay.